Quesnel’s United Way Fire Mitigation Project has been a success so far

Crew has worked on more than 80 properties since November

Spring cleaning can mean different things to different people, and after two straight summers of busy wildfire activity in the Cariboo, many people may be thinking of cleaning up their properties to ensure they are clear of debris that could fuel a fire.

Steve Dodge certainly is.

Dodge is the supervisor for the Quesnel United Way Fire Mitigation Project, and since November, the project has been helping seniors and people with low mobility or mental health barriers mitigate fire risks around their properties.

“If you’re a senior and you are still able to do work, it’s still a lot to get done,” said Dodge.

The project runs until May 3, and Dodge and his crew have been busy doing work such as limbing trees to eliminate ladder fuel, removing yard debris and old building materials and educating property owners about how they can FireSmart their homes.

Dodge says the Quesnel United Way Fire Mitigation project has been very successful to date thanks to a dedicated and experienced team of five.

They have done more than 60 mitigations and completed nearly 80 property assessments since the program started in November, and Dodge says they have done work in the Nazko Valley, as far east as Cottonwood, as far south as McLeese Lake and north to the Cottonwood River. They have also done about 20 properties in Bouchie Lake.

When Dodge and his crew visit a property, they go through the FireSmart Structure and Site Hazard Assessment Form, which assesses and rates everything from your home’s roof materials and building exterior to deck materials and window and door glazing. Points are given out for items such as open eaves or vinyl siding, and the more points you have, the more at-risk you are.

One big focus is forest vegetation and landscaping. The crew will identify trees and bushes that are particularly volatile, such as juniper bushes or spruce trees, and clear dead branches were embers could easily land and catch fire.

“During the winter months, what we were especially trying to treat is ladder fuels, so the lower two metres on coniferous trees,” said Dodge. “If a fire is going to encroach on a property, it’s probably going to be a grass fire. If it goes up to the crown of the tree, the embers can hit the house.”

Assessing a property, Dodge and his team look at the three FireSmart zones — zero to 10 metres, 10-30 metres and 30 metres and further.

Dodge says they look at doing a 30-metre horseshoe around people’s homes because if they tried to do more, they wouldn’t get to very many properties.

They particularly focus on the area that is zero to 1.5 metres from the house.

“Research has shown that is what is really volatile and at risk,” said Dodge. “They recommend to have that 1.5 metres fuel-free, so any cedar trees or brush, you should think about removing them.”

Dodge says it’s quite easy to score high on the FireSmart assessment, and there have only been four people who have scored less than extreme. They haven’t found anybody who scored low.

If the score is moderate or extreme, they speak to the homeowner about some of the work they could do to reduce the risk of wildlife damaging their house.

Once they have completed their assessment, they discuss options with the homeowner and providing a FireSmart homeowners guide.

Outside of the city limits, they were able to burn debris when there was snow on the ground.

“With the snow we’ve had on the ground, we’ve been able to burn those without risk,” said Dodge. “One benefit we can provide is because we are burning debris, they don’t have to worry about it later. I’ve really stressed to individuals that you might as well let us do it now, so they don’t have to worry about it in the spring.”

Dodge says when they have completed their work, they give the homeowner the information to continue the mitigation work and keep the hazards low.

“When we leave a property, it’s good when we leave, but there’s ongoing maintenance,” he said. “If you let your lawn grow and die, there’s a huge hazard there as well.”

Most of the tools the crew has been using are tools like loppers and pole saws that they purchased locally, and Dodge notes you don’t need anything special to do most of the work they’ve been doing.

Dodge says a lot of people are worried about how to protect their home, and he and his crew are happy to be able to help.

“There was one lady we worked on her property in the Nazko Valley for three days,” he said. “In the previous 18 months, she had been evacuated two times for fire and for flood, and she was on her own. We were very happy to help her. I think everybody feels a sense of pride in what we’re doing. You’re able to monitor what you’re doing, and people are very appreciative, for sure.”

Dodge says his employees have good skills and strong work ethic, and one benefit is they all receive a lot of training through this program, including Level 1 First Aid, Bear Aware, Ladder Safety Training, WHMIS and more. They will also be able to do their S100 and S185 Basic Firefighting Training.

“We have two guys who got offered jobs with the maintenance contractor who works for Bowron Provincial Park, and having these credentials, it was a no-brainer for them to be offered those jobs,” notes Dodge.

United Way also purchased personal protective equipment and good work boots for the crew members.

The Fire Mitigation Project runs to May 3, and seniors can still sign up. Dodge says there has been some talk of continuing the program past May, and he hopes the program will get extended, as he sees much more work that needs to be done.

There are four teams in the Thompson/Nicola/Cariboo region working on this initiative, including Quesnel, Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and Ashcroft (which covers Clinton, Cache Creek and Ashcroft).

Funding for the program has been provided from the Government of Canada and the Province of BC through a Job Creation Partnership Project under the umbrella of the Employment Program of British Columbia.

For more information, contact Steve Dodge at 250-255-4687 or steve@unitedwaytnc.ca.

READ MORE: Free fire mitigation offered for seniors

Lindsay Chung
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